The Great Rugby Divide

I’ve kept quiet this World Cup. As my fellow columnists have shared their thoughts about the rugby, I have bitten my tongue, my lip, my knuckles and any other bodily protrusion that would prevent me from speaking out.

But now, that time is over. Now, the gloves are off. Now… I’ve run out of metaphors.

Firstly, a disclaimer: I am an Englishman who is married to a Scottish woman, living in America, working in an international organization, with an office directly across from a Kiwi Rugby savant.

I’m part of a multi-national community populated with a decent number of Aussies, Kiwi’s and Springboks. It is quite possible I am so confused that I have no idea what I am talking about.

The event that has been catalytic in my silence ending is the elimination of all four of the Home Nations, specifically at the hands of southern hemisphere opposition. There is a trend, a pattern here, and I decided to turn my unbiased and purely objective focus towards working out why the South has triumphed so comprehensively over the North.

I made some observations that only now, the world is ready to hear.

Team Strengths

It seems that northern team’s general gameplan involves moving bodies into collisions and trying to smash through, whilst southern teams move the ball into space and run round.

Whilst northern teams may appear to be brutish, unsophisticated and unintelligent in their tactics, this is simply a facade. The rationale is quite simple: historically, as northern nations, we’ve a long track record of fighting the French on the field of war. Alas, the European Union has put paid to what was many nations favorite pastime, so this pleasurable privilege has petered out in recent history.

The European Union has taken all the fun out of beating the French, and now the only way we can even come close is on the rugby field. Yes, we may forget that not every game is actually against the French, but that is simply because we’re gearing up for the real event, which is second only to Christmas as an annual highlight.

It seems, this World Cup, we got a bit carried away and maybe lost our focus a teensy-weensy bit.

Player Development

Northern nations are very developed culturally, and so have a vast number of sports that young people can choose from to participate in. This, of course, diminishes the pool of potential rugby stars that would come through our systems and excel in the game. This is the only explanation possible for the importing by northern nations of second-rate South Africans, Australians, Kiwi’s, Samoans, Tongans and Antarticans not good enough for their own countries.

It is, I promise you, nothing to do with a northern lack of skill, talent, flair, technique or coaching ability. However, this recent World Cup demonstrated that these players were, in fact, sleeper agents deployed by their nations of birth to disrupt the northern teams games. This is a well established fact and can be proved by the many reliable sources of information found on a Friday night in local drinking establishments scattered across Europe.

In-Game Strategy

One ‘friend’ commented that northern teams kick a lot and asked why. He cheekily commented on the lack of ability with the ball in hand and suggested that rejected soccer players had forgotten they had chosen to play another game entirely. I corrected him graciously, but firmly, and in between punches, informed him that it was obvious to learned gentlemen why this kicking strategy is the case.

When you live in a nation that sees the sun once a year, for four hours, and you live under perpetual cloud with what feels like eternal rain, then kicking is the only way you can move the ball downfield. Add in the marsh-like conditions of most pitches, and feral local children who steal anything spherical, and you can see why kicking long and high is desirable.

It is fine to compare these settings with the idyllic paradises of sunny, warm, pleasant southern hemisphere pitches, but just remember this – when you live in sub-arctic nations and have to wear multiple layers during the summer to keep alive, a positive by-product is that you never have to experience warm beer. Plus, we aren’t ever going to get killed by an octopus. Mainly because our wildlife isn’t really that wild.

So there you have it. Three reasons why the northern teams were cheated – I mean, defeated, by southern teams. Now, with my shrewd tactical analysis complete, I shall sit by the phone and wait for the inevitable England job offer…

By Anthony Hilder

Why I Don’t Get U.S. Sports

I admit it. As a Brit, I don’t really understand U.S. sports.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the rules. When I was a lad in the ‘90s, I owned a Sega Megadrive – called a Genesis in the States – and became incredibly proficient on Madden, NHL and other EA Sports games. Oh, and NBA Jam. “He’s on fire!”

I get the rules. But I still don’t get the sports. I think it’s a cultural thing. But I’m going to run the risk of my American friends and make some observations on sports this side of the Atlantic. Tongue firmly placed in my cheek, of course.

It seems as if American sports are especially focused on appealing to men. Even more so than other places in the world.

How do I know? Look at the franchise names. They ripple with masculinity. They scream testosterone. Powerful names to appeal to powerful men.

Team names like Anaheim Ducks. The Toronto Maple Leafs. Admittedly they are Canadian, but you accepted them into your league. The Pittsburgh Penguins, named after the well-known ecosystem-dominating predator. The Los Angeles Clippers (how did a team of hairdressers get a professional team?) The New Orleans Pelicans. The Arizona Cardinals. Because a team of high-ranking robed Catholic priests would be intimidating in a contact sports situation. I could go on.

But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Substance is more important than style. So let’s look at the substance of the popular US sports, one at a time.

Football

Football is first up.

I’m sorry, but I can’t get past the name. Football? One player uses his feet ten per cent of the time at best, and it’s not even a ball.

I suppose ‘Throw Pigskin Egg’ isn’t a catchy name, even if its appropriately descriptive.

You also have about a hundred people on the team on the sidelines. Offense, defense, special teams. Frankly, I’d feel part of a special team if I was being paid ten million dollars to punt the ball a few times a game.

Another thing is the breaks. Someone does a bit of throwing or running or hitting, and then they get a rest! You call them ‘downs’ but I think they should be called ‘downtime.’ Bless them, these big hulking athletes, who need a little breather to get over the frequent stitches that two second exertions cause them. Perhaps that is why a football game that should last eighty minutes is spread out with commercial breaks to take up the best part of a weekend.

The poor delicate flowers. And don’t tell me how tough a sport it is. They get armour, on top of the frequent rest stops. Rugby players get nothing except broken noses, shattered collarbones and cauliflower ears. Yet women swoon over them. It’s ridiculous.

What about College football?

Quite frankly, I think students get away with murder these days. They should be studying hard in preparation to contribute positively to society through paying tax. Not given access to stadiums of thirty-thousand people fans who want to watch them play sports. They’ve got enough distractions with cheap beer, house parties and frat houses. I’m not bitter I didn’t have that opportunity. Oh no.

Therefore, I’ve deduced that Football is a simple equation. (Rugby + armour) + cheerleaders = Football.

Basketball

Basketball, I have some more time for.

Who doesn’t like watching a sport that you know you will never be able to replicate, if only because you just scrape to being five foot ten inches tall?

I can’t even jump up and reach the candy on the top shelf in my cupboard my wife hides from me. I’ve got fat chance of reaching the bottom of the net, let alone slam dunking someone in the face.

Interestingly, Basketball is based upon a British game called Netball, popular amongst schoolgirls. Girls of distinctly average height.

Therefore, I’ve deduced that Basketball is a simple equation. (Netball + bouncing) + cheerleaders = Basketball.

Baseball

Baseball was up next, for my unbiased analysis.

I enjoyed finding out that the World Series was only played by American teams. That world championship must mean a lot, eh?

You also love your stats. Baseball seems to be the sport of choice for those non-athletic geeks who love Excel spreadsheets more than they should.

Imagine my surprise to discover that Baseball is based upon a British game called Rounders. A game played by schoolgirls. I’m noticing a pattern emerging.

Therefore, I’ve deduced that Baseball is a simple equation. (Rounders + stats) + cheerleaders = Baseball.

Ice Hockey

Hockey. Ah, Hockey.

Now, I loath ice-skating. I’ve done it once, and it was such a traumatic experience that I’m currently resisting all attempts by my wife to try it again. I’m not saying I couldn’t do it, but I did resemble a newborn deer lacking leg ligaments, on roller-skates, trying to stand up.

So how these guys, wearing hand-me-down armour from resting footballers, can skate into each other and then punch each other in the face, I have no idea. I have no idea how it is legal.

During my research I discovered that Hockey is based upon Hockey. Or what is now called Lawn Hockey, because certain people seem to be unable to determine through sight alone if the game is being played on ice or grass and therefore require an extra noun.

Incidentally, Lawn Hockey is very popular among British schoolgirls. Hmmm.

Therefore, I’ve deduced that Hockey is a simple equation. (Lawn Hockey – Lawn + Ice) + UFC = Hockey.

IndyCar

Indycar just seems to be Formula One racing around oval tracks. It’s worth saying that it’s not based on a game popular amongst British schoolgirls. For once.

So, my American friends, this is why most of the rest of the world don’t get US Sports.

I’ve given you an objective, balanced, well-thought out explanation. Unbiased and not at all affected by my faded athletic ability. Why don’t you tell me what you think? Using stats and cheerleaders, of course…

By Anthony Hilder

Article originally published here: http://uncompromisedmen.com/2014/01/28/dont-get-american-sports-ready/

A Beginner’s Guide to the English Premier League

Finally, the English Premier League has crashed upon us with a force reminiscent of Leonardo Di Caprio’s face hitting northern atlantic ice!

You can’t escape it – the EPL is the world’s most exported league, with every continent represented amongst the stars on show.

For those who don’t quite know where to start, here is my rundown of the twenty competing teams, complete with personal bias and tongue firmly planted in cheek…

Arsenal

Play pretty patterns with the ball, but don’t often win things. Either managed by a genius who subscribes to aesthetically perfect football who spots talent at a young age and develops them into world stars without breaking the bank, or a entrenched idealist who spots talent at a young age and turns them into world stars who then defect to main rivals because they want to actually win trophies. Both views agree that the coach seems bizarrely against signing the tough, destructive grafter type of player that the team actually needs to genuinely compete for the title.

Aston Villa

My dad tells me they were once a big team, in his day (He’s 75). Recently appointed a new coach who wouldn’t look or sound out of place managing a pub team. Owned by an American who has realised he bought the wrong EPL club beginning with the letter ‘A’. Sold their two decent players from last season to other EPL clubs for a ton of money; have spent a ton of money buying foreign players no-one has heard of from teams no-one has heard of.

Bournemouth

Recently promoted into the EPL. Nicknamed the Cherries. Have a stadium half the size of the average EPL stadium. Based in a town famous for students and the nice beaches. Instead of buying quality players, they’ve generally stuck with the players who got them promoted or loaned or signed free agents. The nice but naive manager is committed to playing pretty passing football. Their record signing injured himself and is now out for at least six months. There are enough reasons right there why they’ll be relegated.

Chelsea

Champions. Solid, effective, efficient, counter-attacking football built on an excellent defence. Or boring, staid, defensive, opportunistic simplistic football. Managed by a genius tactician, motivator, media-facing mind-game playing winner. Or managed by an arrogant, rude, deluded over-sensitive moaning control freak. Spends money well. Or abuses wealth to purchase titles. Did I mention they were champions?

Crystal Palace

An average team littered with average players and a few gifted but inconsistent above-average players, coached by an slightly above-average manager in a below-average stadium. Are batting above their average by somehow managing to sign a classy French international midfielder who may have been tempted by significantly above-average money. Will have days they are brilliant and beat the best, and days they lose games they should win. On balance, will have an average season.

Everton

In the shadow of a team geographically nearby who themselves are in the shadow of a team geographically nearby. Won titles when I was learning how to control my bodily functions, which was further back in time than you might think. A mixture of good players slowly in decline and exciting players on the up, managed by a well-rated coach who consistently does well with what he has. In effect, a club that is either a stage where players audition in hope of being noticed by bigger and better clubs, or an elephants graveyard where careers come to slowly die.

Leicester City

Somehow miraculously escaped relegation last season, and sacked the verbally and physically aggressive coach to replace him with a mild-mannered, calm but overly detail-orientated new guy. The players are assembled from the lower divisions, reserves of other EPL clubs and smaller clubs in foreign leagues. Historically, this approach has always proven to be a recipe for disaster but these guys have ‘heart’, ‘work-rate’, ‘guts’ and other nice things people say to describe a lack of talent, so I’m sure they’ll be fine. No, really.

Liverpool

One of the world’s most famous clubs with a rich heritage and huge fanbase. Have an intelligent manager and successful businessman as owner who are both currently doing everything they can to prove they lack brains or business acumen. Last season were forced to sell one of their star players for a massive amount of money because he was grumpy, and reinvested all the funds to buy too many above-average players who didn’t settle, resulting in a ‘mare of a campaign. This season, have been forced to sell one of their star players for a massive amount of money because he was grumpy, and have reinvested all the funds to buy too many above-average players who won’t settle….

Manchester City

Champions two years ago. A filthy-rich club who have used their almost unlimited funds to become a global superclub and try to buy many of the world’s best players. Unfortunately they are located in Manchester, which is wet, grey and ugly, and so they can only buy the best players in the world who also happen to be financial mercenaries and not bothered by atrocious weather. Each season always seem to buy a star player from one of their closest rivals, and then never really play them, providing many giggles all round.

Manchester United

The biggest, most famous, and most successful EPL club and known across the world. Once coached by a boisterous, screaming, madman who demanded success and got it through sheer force of will. Now coached by a boisterous, screaming madman who demands success and through sheer force of will just upsets, annoys, frustrates and irritates everyone. Have spent a ton of money on players who could be amazing, or might just be rubbish, including a world record fee spent on a teenager who has only scored 11 goals in games against grown-ups.

Newcastle United

A passionate fanbase and huge stadium should make this one of the top clubs in the EPL. Should. It’s just a shame the owner of the club would use it as a perfect demonstration of a lifestyle business. Club strategy involves the excellent scouting department identifying quality players cheaply available, snapping them up, playing them, and selling them on for a huge profit. Which is fine, unless all your closest rivals are the ones buying your best players and your team slowly gets worse until it almost gets relegated. Oops.

Norwich City

Promoted to the EPL this season. Considered a ‘yo-yo’ club because they go up, down, up, down between relegation and promotion season after season. This time around, needed to buy star quality to make a good attempt at breaking the pattern. Star signings included a couple of cast-off loan signings, a free agent defensive midfielder who played for a team that didn’t defend very well, and a creative winger for a team that didn’t create much and got relegated. Oh dear.

Southampton

A club that uses a moneyball approach to recruiting players, employing a vast number of scouts, statisticians and analysts who comb through YouTube recordings of players throughout the European leagues to discover the best players in every position before signing them really cheaply. A year later, these players get bought for crazy money by bigger clubs who soon realise that the players aren’t actually that great, but just look great on a YouTube video and in a club with a system that makes the most of them. Cue Southampton’s bank manager laughing, and the chairman smoking a big cigar from an expensive yacht somewhere off the coast of Brazil.

Stoke City

A reputation for combative, direct, physically aggressive football managed by a coach who as a player had a reputation as being combative, direct and physically aggressive. Trying to change the stereotype by signing quick, skilful, creative midfielders who no doubt will end up being kicked, punched and battered by their own team-mates in training who are yet to learn the new ways.

Sunderland

Massive stadium with incredibly partisan supporters, situated in an area that is half area of outstanding natural beauty, half urban dystopia. Surprisingly enough, the only players who want to move there are either in the moonlights of their careers or lured from foreign shores with the promise of crazy money. Either way, the general malaise of apathy soon hits and the club struggle against relegation year after year before replacing the coach and spending huge money on the same sort of players before going again. Sigh.

Swansea City

So committed to playing pretty passing football that they only sign players who are physically incapable of hoofing the ball long and hard. The coach is the latest in a long line of football purists who are supported by an idealist chairman in showing the world how a football club should be run. Inevitably, the coaches and best players get stolen away by bigger clubs so the club rebuilds again, recruiting fast and skilful hidden diamonds from across the world – partly because they aren’t wealthy, partly because no-one in their right mind wants to move to Swansea.

Tottenham Hotspur

A big club that hasn’t won anything in a long time despite ongoing delusions of grandeur. Fans are either full of unreasonable optimism or have slack grips on reality, depending on who you ask. Every year they sell the players that didn’t quite make the mark, spend lots of money buying potential superstars, and proclaim that this is finally the year where they will break into the elite of the EPL. Every year is a rollercoaster of amazing performances – until they actually play one of the top clubs, get hammered, and whimper away with their sporting tail between their legs. However, there is always next season….

Watford

Most famous for being owned/sponsored/adored by Elton John, this team has just been promoted to the EPL. A below average club owned by an Italian family who also own an average club in Spain and an above average Italian team. Having three clubs linked through business association, the owners use a complex system of inter-club loans akin to incest to recruit players. They are also purchasing players ‘with a proven track record in the EPL’ i.e. players who played in the EPL earlier in their careers for a couple of years before being sold. Of course, everyone is wondering why these players were sold if they were that good in the first place.

West Bromwich Albion

Used to be a big club back when VHS was a thing of fantasy. The club is solidly run and coached by a dinosaur of a manager who has built a pretty good career out of insisting on players with a high work-ethic. Demands a strong defence, dependable goalkeeper, midfielders who can run, pass and tackle, and strikers who score goals. Outdated or traditional, you decide. Interestingly, no English person can point at a map and tell you where West Bromwich Albion actually is. Rumours that it is located where Camelot used to be will continue to abound whilst the club avoid relegation so successfully.

West Ham United

Ever meet a 60s snob? You know, the person who was alive back then and will always tell you how great the Beatles, the Stones, Sean Connery as James Bond or Mini Coopers were? West Ham fans are the footballing equivalent of 60s snobs. During those 60s heydays, West Ham provided England’s World Cup winning side with its best players. And they won’t let you forget that. Forget that they’ve not won anything in anyone alive’s lifetime. Forget that the club continue to pay silly money for attackers without fixing the obviously awful defence. Forget that they’ll start the season well before descending into the now expected mid-table finish. It’s all about the 60s heyday. Groovy, baby.

By Anthony Hilder